School Tech Guy Fired For Running SETI@Home?

from the not-quite dept

SETI@Home, one of the earlier and (still) largest distributed computing projects was launched more than 10 years ago, and it’s still pretty common for lots of folks (geeks and non-geeks alike) to run the screensavers and work through the mounds of SETI data. That’s why it’s a bit surprising to find a News.com writeup by Chris Matyszczyk, about a guy fired for running the software written up as if SETI@Home were some sort of wacky new project by UFO enthusiasts. Basically, it sounds like the guy installed the SETI@Home software on a bunch of computers at the school, and that upset school officials. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing. Five years ago, we wrote about a similar firing of an employee by the state of Ohio.

Still, if you look at the details of this particular firing the situation seems a lot different than the News.com report suggests (or than even the article from AZCentral suggests). There’s actually a criminal investigation going on, but the bigger issue (even though it’s downplayed in the article) is the fact that the school district claims the guy stole 18 computers from the district and had them in his home (turned up by a warrant). That seems a lot more understandable as an offense leading to termination. Separately, it appears he did not complete his job duties — such as installing firewall software that never showed up (oddly, the article never actually defines the guy’s job title, but it sounds like some sort of IT job). The whole SETI@Home stuff just seems exaggerated. This includes the claim, made in the article, that the guy’s actions cost the school district between $1.2 million and $1.6 million. While some of this may be tied to the missing computers, the article implies that much of it is from running SETI@Home, which the school claims was a burden on the computer systems. While he probably shouldn’t have been running the software on those machines without permission, that alone is hardly that big of a deal. It seems like most people at the school district and the writers of the articles linked above don’t understand how SETI@Home works, which seems to create an awful lot of confusion.

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Comments on “School Tech Guy Fired For Running SETI@Home?”

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25 Comments
Prodiem says:

Overkill, maybe not...

After reading up a bit and with personal experiences, this at first seems overkill, and it is to some extent, but there is some validity to the claim.
First, he was not performing his duties, (Salary stolen)
Second, he abused the infastrusture of the school system, electricity wasted, HVAC running, man hours of support staff running around maintaining over used systems. With electricity bills of large buildings of $10,000-$40,000 a month, it gets expensive fast.
Third 18 stolen computers, I have some leanicy as most were probably “Obsolete” or “replaced” and he “borrowed” but it still adds up.
Fourth Man hours wasted maintaining and waiting on “rebuilt” equipment to replace really aged systems.

While I’d be hard pressed to see a million in cost, a few hundred thousand could easily be racked up.

The story could be looked at as a warning of the real costs of participating in Distributed Computing programs, and making sure that if you participate that it is the oganization, not the individual, who decides.

asgorath72 says:

Re: Overkill, maybe not...

i have been a pc tech for 13 years. i assure u not once have i ever had a machine give out for using up to max resources. i have run seti wide open on my many computers (both custom built and store bought models) for about 9 years and have noticed no wear on any hardware from it.

additionally it is harder on newer hardware to turn it off on then to let it run 24/7. and sleep which windows has not fully perfected as any tech who has had to drain the residual charge on a machine to reboot when it would not wake can tell you. now assuming that, the small power usage increase the program would cause beyond the machines running full time is negligable.

if he was fired for poor performanace or stealing great but the good doctor needs to unbunch her panties and leave a legitimate scientific project that is time tested alone

Anonymous Coward says:

>> Officials allege he downloaded to every (school) district computer …. Higley officials so far estimate the damages, energy usage and equipment losses linked to Niesluchowski at $1.2 million to $1.6 million

I don’t know how many systems were under his control, but since SETI essentially ramps up CPU usage to 100%, I can easily see an extra 20 to 100 watts of energy use per box. Add in the additional cooling required in one of the hotest regions in America and the numbers add up.

In fairness, this guy was the Network Systems Administrator and probably had wide ranging authority and wasn’t just an entry level tech. With that said, that is also more reason I can see why they wanted him fired. There seems to be an obvious lack of focus or at least common sense. He also showed that his first priority wasn’t the school district/his employer. Add in theft, questionable management skills and so on …

As an aside, one has to wonder with the major budget issues that Arizona is facing if it wasn’t a budget review that got him caught. Arizona is having to do major trimming and every penny counts right now.

Freedom

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

It seems like most people at the school district and the writers of the articles linked above don’t understand how SETI@Home works, which seems to create an awful lot of confusion.

The article I saw said that “as well as running SETI@home he was also running some crazily-named software called ‘BOINC’…”, which showed that the person writing the article didn’t have the remotest clue what they were writing about.

(For the terminally uninformed, “BOINC” is SETI@home, or at least the system that it works under, and has been for several years… You can run other projects under the BOINC system, such as protein folding, but it seems he was just doing SETI.)

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

after reading the actual article from the republic its being blown way out of proportion. it does point out the part about seti, but you are leaving out the points in the article such as he had been asked to remove it and it was apparently causing issues in the classrooms.

not to mention the fact that it also points out that he had some very questionable management skills and yeah.. its nothing that should show up at techdirt other than a cautionary tale to other admins on how NOT to do their job.

kirillian (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Ya…my favorite was the anecdotal comment that a teacher was using SMARTBOARD and it stopped working! God forbid! It must have been that SETI@Home program!!

I could see the possibility of the screen saver coming up in the middle of class, but none of the articles that I’ve read even mention that possibility or fact, whichever it is), nor do they tie it in to the story, letting us know that SETI@Home was the cause.

YA…just a little sensationalism there…even though it DOES sound like he was rather incompetent at his job.

No surpised. says:

Numb white people in Arizona

Having lived in Arizona for about a year, a year ago I was amazed at the large percentage of dumb white people under 50. It seems like they are dumb because the school systems suck, because the republicans don’t want to pay for anything. It is one real messed up state. My guess is some moron is running for office in Gilbert.

Next will be a Monkey trial. It does not cost anywhere near 20 dollars a year for a computer to run seti@home. My guess is it is way 25 cents.

asgorath72 says:

Re: $1 million to fix?

me too, especially since one could likely write a script to send over the network that would remove seti from all machines at once. like at night when ppl aren’t using them? i would imagine a similar script was used to install it on all the machines. or at least thats how i would do it. would be one man for a day maybe if he took a lot of breaks while writing it. 1.x mil for a days work? sign me up.

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